Prof. Pat Utomi, Convener of the Big Tent Coalition for Obi-Datti presidential ticket, says INEC must ensure that the 2023 general elections are devoid of child voting and vote buying.
The Political Economist stated this in Lagos at a news briefing to flag off the Big Tent Door to Door Campaign nationwide for the Labour Party presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi ahead of the Feb. 25 presidential election.
Utomi said that INEC must use the 2023 general elections as an opportunity to redeem its image.
He noted that a significant trust deficit in the relationship between INEC and the Nigerian people had hunted the legitimacy of elections conducted so far.
He said that INEC should put its integrity to bear by conducting a credible election and ensuring that under-aged children were not allowed to vote as witnessed in previous elections in some parts of Nigeria.
Utomi noted that stopping under-aged voting was easy with the introduction of the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) which would make it impossible for children below the age of 18 years to vote.
“Politicians have been the ones helping to register the underaged and ensuring that they voted. Thumbprint via the BVAS can detect the age of voters.
“Election monitors should look out for underage voters and call INEC attention to it for verification,” he said.
He said that INEC should also take care of the underpopulated areas, so that no eligible Nigerian would be disenfranchised, explaining that neglect of underpopulated areas, gave room for buying of votes in the past.
According to him, areas deserted as a result of the activities of insurgents should be taken care of in the election and they should not be neglected as some still reside in the affected areas.
He explained that, if those areas of deficiency mentioned were not taken care of, those would become avenues for sabotage of the elections.
“It is important that INEC redeem itself before the world by explaining the fear that deserted areas like Borno North and several corridors of insurgency become the areas of created votes; the issue of underaged voting and evidence that the BVAS is hack proof,” Utomi said.
Utomi also frowned at attacks by politicians who belonged to different camps, stressing that, it was not good for the advancement of democracy.
In the first Republic, there was civility among politicians of different leanings.
“Today people see those contesting in other parties as enemies rather than people who have competing ideas on how society should be organized.
“I say this because I have experienced subtle threats from people I consider friends passed through mutual friends.
” I am not troubled at all by the warnings for this battle about saving tomorrow for the future of our children, in a case for which I have lived sacrificially and one for which I am not afraid to die. But it is for how much take away from building elite consensus through rational public conversation can be a big negative for our prospects as a prosperous nation,” he said.
He said that the next two weeks would be used for the house-to-house campaign to convince the electorate why they must vote for Obi.
“There is no alternative to Obi. He is the only option we have to salvage this country,” he added.
While commending INEC for extending the date for collection of the Permanent Voters’Cards, Utomi said in a biometric scenario they could be jettisoned.
“What is most needed in the BVAS is the face and the thumbprint, not the card. Once it recognized the face and thumbprint, the person should be allowed to vote, ” he added.
However, Dr. Chidi Okpalauba, one of the Directors of the Big Tent Coalition, said that the house-to-house campaign would be carried out by volunteers.
“So many people have volunteered and they will be taking off simultaneously nationwide to educate Nigerians on the Logo of the Labour Party and how best to thumbprint to avoid void votes.
“Every area around all polling units nationwide will be covered by the volunteers in all wards across Nigeria,” Okpalauba added.